The EWA Has Its Day

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a backyard wrestler.  Well, someone who gets it decided to write an article about us and our “company,” EWA.  If you’re, in any way, interested in reading it, here it is:

 

Westchester’s fake-fight club PDF Print E-mail
Written by MARK LUNGARIELLO
Thursday, 09 June 2011 14:31
Greg sat at his desk one recent morning, with a smile on his face not usual for the 9 a.m. crowd. On the tabletop, balanced between the keyboard, monitor and a few Post-It’s were two neon bulbs – those long, thin bulbs common for sterile light fixtures in office buildings.

Co-workers had changed the lights the night before and rather than throw away the old, dead bulbs, they left them for Greg.“We figured your friends could break these over your head,” they said. Greg was touched.Garbage gets Greg’s imagination going these days. The backyard-wrestling league he fake-fights in is back for the summer, and rummaging through the trash might produce some treasure like an old computer keyboard that could be used as a prop on match day. These things usually end up broken over their heads, or used as something painful to fall on from high up on the turnbuckles of the homemade wrestling ring.

Greg, 29, isn’t afraid to pull over his car and grab something off the curb if it’s destructive and interesting enough.

“You’d be amazed what you find in front of people’s houses on Tuesday,” he said.

Brian, another wrestler in the league, told me he looks at garbage differently than he used to. “I have people text messaging me, ‘there’s garbage at whatever location,” he said. Brian thought better of snagging a large tube television off someone’s curb last week, because breaking an old clunker like that over his friend’s noggin might be dangerous, even by these guys’ standards.

Their standards of safety are untraditional you might say, but these aren’t your standard backyard wrestlers either. People might expect behavior like this from kids out in the bayou or somewhere remote, but not from a group of adults in Westchester County. Several of the participants in this league, which they call the EWA, are college educated – Brian and Greg among them. They have been known to show up to work bruised, and sometimes scarred, from their weekend matches.

Interestingly, most of the crew is pretty open about their participation in the league – they post photos on Facebook and talk about it with co-workers. Brian did so at a previous job at an eyeglass store. “They didn’t care, they just wanted me not to get hurt so I can come to work,” he said.

The leader and mastermind of the EWA works at a local public school district. The other wrestlers call him “Hollywood Joe” and like most of the members of the league, he doesn’t look like a wrestler – under six-feet-tall and well south of 200 pounds.

It’s the backyard of the home he rents in Rye Brook where each weekend these grown men come, dressed in face paint and wigs and full body costumes, and pretend to beat each other up.

It was “Hollywood’s” obsession with pro-wrestling that created this fake-fight club, according to the members. The ring he built in his backyard is an impressive 16 feet across, and he estimates he’s dumped about $2,200 into building it. It dominates the yard the way a Grecian fountain might. When it’s not in use, the ring is covered with tarp.

Hollywood, 29, started building the ring last year, as he approached the sobering 30-years-old mark. He looked back with nostalgia at the reckless days of youth when he and his friends would wrestle in their parents’ yards. He figured it was his last chance to do something this crazy.

“If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do this now,” he said. “You can’t do this in five years.”

At first it started as a bit of a joke, but as it progressed, the ring construction consumed him. Many of the pieces were taken from the trash (where else?), but wood and other material were purchased at Home Depot and elsewhere. The mat is layered to sound painful, have bounce, but also not hurt much for the fighters. Its surface is canvas, underneath there is plywood, mattresses, and gym mats. He spent hours, days, weeks in the backyard just building it all and even now, he continually tweaks it to reinforce the structure, make repairs, or to try to make it safer. “It was a pain and a lot of money in duct tape,” he explained.

His friends say the construction was a testament to Hollywood’s tendency to be consumed by his hobbies (they note his extensive Star Wars figures and Dragon Ball Z DVD collection). Soon the ring was a reality, fights were being taped each weekend, and what was supposed to be “one last time,” is now entering its second year.

Hollywood was so proud of the construction, he invited his 55-year-old father to participate. Dad played “The King,” an Elvis impersonator, and together they hosted a tribute to grandpa who died years ago. The winner of the match won grandpa’s old war medal.

The ring remains the star of the show, even above the characters the guys portray like “Claudio Cacciatore,” a short-tempered Brooklynite, and “Deep South Revival,” a tag team who are ‘heels’ which is pro-wrestling for “bad dudes.” Neighbors often watch from their balconies, laughing and cheering. Friends and family sit in a row of folding chairs. Some chairs later get used as weapons in the matches, a few have the school district Hollywood works at stamped on them. But the seats aren’t stolen, he said. They were taken from the trash when the school bought new ones.

Whoever’s not fighting takes his turn videotaping while standing on a short ladder doubling as an on-air commentator. Hollywood later cuts the video and burns it all to DVD. To mimic pro-wrestling as much as possible, the wrestlers get dressed in the kitchen while someone announces them from outside. The fighters emerge from the backdoor through a blanket-shrouded doorway, while music from a boombox plays their pre-chosen “entrance songs.” (The music was first played from stereos in cars parked in the driveway, but the sound of car engines starting up could be heard on the video).

And even though the EWA is a boys’ club through and through, the audience often includes women. Three regulars include some of the wrestlers’ girlfriends, including Nydia, who dates Brian, the former eyeglass store employee. She said she is often a nervous viewer, fearing Brian will be hurt, but she shrugged off the question if she finds the behavior strange. “They’re living out their dreams,” Nydia, 26, said. “If it makes him happy, I get behind it.”

But not everyone ‘gets it.’

“It’s actually affected our relationships,” Hollywood said.

Some feared getting hurt, and so wouldn’t participate. Others were camera shy and didn’t want pictures of themselves wrestling getting out and possibly affecting their jobs. One good friend of Hollywood’s, who is married with a kid, has become completely estranged from the group.

“I invited him to watch,” Hollywood said. “He never returns my call.”

Still, they are quick to body slam the thought that what they are doing is strange or geeky or anti-social. They note how physically demanding the fights get, with the participants sore for days and days after matches. They view their league no differently than someone who plays in a men’s baseball league.

“I’d rather hang out with my friends and pretend to beat each other up,” Greg told me.

And even though the storylines and the staging of the event are the focus, there’s something to be said for the ‘release’ of it all. Sure, leading up to filming a “Tuesday Night Takedown” (which ironically is filmed on Sunday), they call each other and discuss how the match will go and what the storyline of the characters will be. But a lot of it is just that primal thing, that guy thing.

“A nice, well-placed chair shot might prevent me from actually punching someone in the face during the week,” Brian joked.

And maybe it’s more than just adrenaline; maybe it’s existential. In a recent match, Hollywood hurt his back.

“I couldn’t move without feeling like there was a nail in my nerves,” he said. But he got up and finished the fight anyway. “There’s an honor in that.”

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~ by brian on June 9, 2011.

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